Complete Car Care Manual: Intro + Table of Contents

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[This Guide is based on the 1981 edition of Reader's Digest Complete Car Care Manual ]

It’s the aim of the Complete Car Care Manual to make car ownership as trouble-free and as economical as possible. A car that is well cared for will last longer and serve you better than a car that is neglected. Although the typical car lasts 10 years and 100,000 miles, you may get twice that mileage from your car by “over-maintaining” it—that is, by performing regular preventive maintenance jobs at intervals shorter than the carmaker recommends.

The guide is divided into four sections. The opening and closing paragraphs deal with general money-saving advice. Sections 2 and 3 illustrate the mechanical components of cars and explain how they work. Sections 4 through 6 deal with the maintenance and repair of your car—this is the heart of the guide and the section that will help you keep your car running better and longer. The explains much of the technical jargon that mechanics use.

We have produced this guide with the full cooperation of the major auto manufacturers and importers. The editors, consultants, and contributors have traveled to the automakers’ training centers and test tracks in North America and abroad. They learned how to perform many of the jobs shown in the guide before they attempted to illustrate or write about them. They have discussed upcoming cars with the engineers who designed them, spoken to technicians from the independent companies that produce major car components or tools for auto service, and learned about “real life,” in-the-field problems from experienced mechanics. A large garage was set up in which many repair and maintenance jobs were undertaken and photographed step-by-step. The photos were then transformed into clear, easy-to-understand drawings.

Because there are repairs that are just too complex for a beginner to attempt, each job in the Complete Car Care Manual has been rated by degree of difficulty. If you lack the skill, tools, and equipment or a suitable workplace for any procedure described, we suggest that you leave such repairs to a professional mechanic. We especially urge you to consult your dealer before attempting any work on a car that is still covered by a warranty.


-- Intro + Table of Contents (this page)

--The costs of driving

  • Calculating driving costs
  • How to sell your old car
  • Buying a new car
  • How to find a good used car
  • Road testing a used car
  • Shopping for the best car loan
  • Leasing vs. buying
  • Driving for maximum economy
  • Road emergencies
  • Buying auto insurance

--How your car works

  • Mechanics of the car
  • Gasoline engines
  • Diesel engines
  • Lubrication systems
  • Common engine layouts
  • Wankel rotary engine
  • Fuel system
  • Fuel injection
  • Ignition system
  • Spark plugs
  • Cooling system
  • Exhaust system
  • Turbo-charging
  • Alternate energy sources
  • Pollution controls
  • Computers
  • Drivetrain
  • Brakes
  • Wheels and tires
  • Suspension
  • Steering
  • Electrical system
  • Body and chassis
  • Heating and ventilation

--Major components of popular cars

  • American Motors
  • Chrysler Corporation
  • Nissan/Datsun
  • Ford Motor Company
  • General Motors
  • Honda
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen

--Tools and their uses:

  • The garage workshop
  • Shopping for tools
  • The metric system
  • Screwdrivers and wrenches
  • Socket wrenches and electric drills
  • Hammers, punches, chisels, and pliers
  • Files and hacksaws
  • Electrical test equipment
  • Gauges
  • Raising a car safely
  • Lubrication and oil change
  • Brake and exhaust system tools
  • Taps and dies
  • Soldering tools and techniques

--How to maintain your car

  • What is maintenance?
  • Tires and wheels
  • Checking for leaks
  • Suspension and steering
  • Engine oil
  • Transmission and clutch
  • Brakes and wheel bearings
  • Distributor
  • Spark plugs
  • Ignition timing
  • Intake and exhaust systems
  • Carburetors
  • Pollution controls
  • Engine
  • Valve clearance
  • Battery and starter
  • Cooling system
  • Body
  • Winter driving
  • Servicing tips

--How to repair your car:

  • Windshield wipers and washers
  • Bodywork
  • Upholstery
  • Troubleshooting brake problems
  • Brake repairs
  • Troubleshooting the cooling system
  • Cooling system repairs
  • Troubleshooting electrical problems
  • Electrical repairs
  • Troubleshooting engine problems
  • Engine repairs
  • Troubleshooting steering and suspension problems
  • Steering and suspension repairs

---Consumer information




Car care can be dangerous:

Working on your car can lead to serious injury unless you observe certain basic precautions. Most of the fluids used in a car are poisonous, corrosive, flammable, or explosive. Many automotive parts become red-hot during normal operation. They can cause severe burns if touched accidentally and can set off a fire or explosion if they come into contact with flammable materials. The potential for injury is great when you work on a car.

Nevertheless, millions of car owners have per formed much of their own maintenance and repair work for years without serious injury. The secret is to develop careful work habits, to, observe basic safety rules, and to work slowly and deliberately, thinking through each action or step and its possible con sequences before you perform it.

Skinned knuckles and minor cuts and burns are a normal part of car repair. Always keep a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher handy. Never work on a car alone. An adult should always be nearby in case emergency help must be summoned quickly.

Throughout this guide, specific safety precautions are given under the heading Caution. These special warnings should be strictly observed. So should the following general precautions, which can help to avoid damage to your car and injury to your person.

Personal safety:

1. Never work on a car if you are tired, sick, intoxicated, or taking drugs.

2. Never run the engine unless the work area is well ventilated and exhaust gases can escape without building up dangerous levels of poisonous carbon monoxide gas. It’s good practice never to run the engine unless the car is outdoors.

3. Don’t wear neckties or any loose clothing when working near a car, machine tools, or a running engine. Always tie back long hair and keep it under a cap. If hair or clothing should catch in moving parts, serious injury may result.

4. Beware of hot exhaust manifolds, mufflers, pipes, hoses, radiators, and other car parts that run hot. Don’t work near them unless you know that they are cool. If in doubt (or if you must work on a hot car), wear work gloves and heavy clothing with long sleeves to protect yourself from burns.

5. Always stay clear of fan blades. Electric fans may start up even when the engine is off. When working near an electric fan, disconnect the fan’s wiring or the battery ground (—) cable.

6. Disconnect the battery ground (—) cable when ever you work on the fuel system or the electrical system. When working with fuel, always work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, and never smoke, cause sparks, or use a heater. Light switches, fans, and electric motors all create sparks that can ignite explosive gasoline fumes.

7. Before working on a car, remove watches, rings, and other jewelry. They can get caught in moving parts and cause serious injury, or they can cause electrical shorts that will burn or shock the wearer.

8. Never work under a raised car unless it’s on level ground and securely supported by jack stands or ramps. Don’t support a car on crates, cement blocks, or other makeshift stands. Don’t work under a car that is supported only by a jack. If any wheels remain on the ground, chock them securely so that the car cannot roll off its stands.

9. If you work under a car on the ground, make sure that the ground is level. Chock the wheels so that the car cannot roll. Engage the parking brake. Put a manual transmission into Reverse and an automatic transmission into Path. Disconnect the ignition-coil cable so that no one can start the car.

10. Keep open flame and sparks away from the battery, which can emit explosive hydrogen gas.

II. Catch draining coolant, oil, fuel, or brake fluid in sturdy, tip-proof containers large enough to hold the anticipated amount of fluid without overflowing. Don’t use food or beverage containers that might be reused and lead to poisoning. Wipe up spills immediately. Put all soaked rags outside until flammable fumes evaporate, or dispose of the rags in sealed metal containers to prevent spontaneous combustion. Keep all poisonous, flammable, and corrosive fluids away from children, pets, and fire hazards. Follow local environmental and safety regulations when you dispose of drained fluids.

12. If you must heat a garage, never use a heater that has an open flame. Use an electric heater, and keep it far enough from the work area so that you cannot accidentally knock it over as you work.

13. Light your work area well. If you need a portable light, use a safety droplight that has a wire cage around the bulb. If a light bulb breaks, its hot filament can ignite fumes from spilled fuel or lubricants.

Vehicle damage

1. Don’t use this manual to work on any car or car component that is not discussed specifically. There are many variations among car parts, and it’s impossible to illustrate them all. If the drawings or descriptions in this guide don’t match the parts on your car exactly, don’t use our instructions. You will need a service manual that specifically deals with those components.

2. If you lack the skills, tools, work area, or time listed for any job in this guide, don’t attempt the job. Take the car to a professional mechanic.

3. Make sure that you have all the tools and materials required before you start any job. Read through the procedures carefully, noting the Tools and Materials box not only for that job but for any other related job that you might be referred to in the text ( For example, the materials needed to bleed the brakes after you replace the shoes). If a part must be removed and inspected before you can determine if a replacement is needed, make sure that the auto parts store will be open, that the part is in stock, and that you have alternate transportation to get to the store.

4. On cars with catalytic converters, you should not run the engine while any spark plug cables are disconnected. Doing so may allow unburned gasoline to reach the catalyst, which can overheat and dam age monolith-type converters in a matter of seconds. If it’s necessary to disconnect a spark plug cable and run the engine for test purposes, do so for only a few seconds. At the first sign of engine misfiring, check the spark plug cables to be sure that they are all connected tightly.

5. Take care not to spill brake fluid, battery acid, or other corrosive materials onto your car’s paint.

6. Use electric or pneumatic tools only to loosen threaded fasteners, never to tighten them. Such tools can easily strip threads, especially on lightweight aluminum, titanium, or magnesium parts.

7. Don’t improvise with makeshift tools or equipment. Poor tools are dangerous and give poor results.

8. Use only replacement parts recommended by the manufacturer of your car, or substitute parts specifically recommended for your car make and model by a reputable auto parts company. Beware of shoddy off-brand replacements and “pirate” parts that are packaged to resemble the carmaker’s original-equipment replacement parts.


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